When Facebook bought virtual reality startup Oculus early 2014, many expressed their worry over VR detouring away from its intended direction of gaming experiences. Many forecasts were issued by respectable news outlets and the VR community alike, suggesting that Oculus was doomed to fail now that Facebook's going to use it mainly for social experiences rather than gameplay.
The forecasts were erroneous, however, given that VR in the general sense has enjoyed numerous strides, and is in an ongoing surge of popularity and relevance as more companies experiment with the technology. In fact, Facebook has been fairly quiet and minimal when it comes to VR, despite buying the company for $2 billion.
It took time before Facebook could elucidate what its concrete plans for the acquisition were. Facebook's put on a sizable bet for the company, aiming to spell out its vision for what online social networking spaces and experiences would look like and how they would function in 10 to 20 years. For Facebook, social interactions are on a VR trajectory, and we first got a glimpse of its VR experiments back in April during the company's F8 conference. Facebook showed a social VR experience that allowed users to visit photospheres, take virtual selfies and customize their avatars.
The experiences were modest compared with other existing VR experiences, but the company was just getting started. Alongside hinting at a standalone VR headset powerful enough to run sans a sophisticated PC setup or even a mobile phone, Mark Zuckerberg showed that the company is going beyond the VR headset to improve upon the VR platform in general.
During its Oculus Connect Keynote on Oct. 6, the company demonstrated examples of how social interactions in VR would work. Its latest VR prototype featured brand new avatars, videospheres and an immersive video calling experience.
Mike Schroepfer, Facebook's chief technology officer, wrote that during the keynote, Facebook "showed [its] vision for a future of computing that puts people first, allowing you to go anywhere and do anything with the friends and family that matter to you." He added that the software Zuckerberg demonstrated was the early work of Facebook's Social VR team, consisting of engineers and designers working on the platform.
Mike Booth, Facebook's Social VR product manager told Road to VR that it wants to acquaint users with its social VR experience "as soon as possible." When pressed if the social VR experience would arrive by the end of 2016, Booth said that it would come "[w]hen it's done."
Facebook's Social VR team experimented with numerous online experiences that focused on socializing, whether getting friends to interact with each other or collaborate on a particular activity. Ideas for tabletop games and apartments were added, but other decorative experiences were pushed out, since the team wanted to bank on social experiences rather than gaming. A wise choice considering it's a tall order for the company to make its VR entry with gaming experiences, if what it truly specializes on is enabling people to connect and interact online.
Facebook is visibly gearing up progressively in the VR department. Although it might not represent the best of what VR has to offer, its focus on dynamic social experiences makes it the first to truly envision the future of social networking.